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Bethel Mills acquiring Fogg’s and Oakes Bros. building supply stores

  • Pete Schwab, of Norwich, shovels the walk at Fogg's Hardware and Building Supply in Norwich, Vt., as his work day comes to a close Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. Bethel Mills has reached an aggreement to buy Fogg's and Oakes Brothers Inc. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 2/7/2020 12:38:07 PM
Modified: 2/8/2020 12:28:58 AM

BETHEL — Three well-known names in the Upper Valley hardware and building supply business will soon all be under single ownership. Bethel Mills, which describes itself as one of the oldest lumberyards in the country, has reached an agreement in principle to acquire both Fogg’s Hardware and Building Supply and Oakes Bros. Inc. in back-to-back transactions, the companies said on Friday.

The two acquisitions would give the Bethel-based hardware and building supply retailer new outlets in Bradford, Vt., where Oakes Bros. operates, and at Fogg’s stores in Norwich, Fairlee and Woodsville.

Bethel Mills, which operates stores in Randolph, Taftsville, Brandon, Vt., Hancock, Vt., and its main distribution center in Bethel, said in a news release that it expected the acquisitions to close by April.

Fogg’s and Oakes, like Bethel Mills, each have been long-time family businesses. Fogg’s co-owner Alan Fogg said the sale will pave his way into retirement while Oakes Bros. owner Neil Oakes said he will stay on “for a couple years” to continue running the kitchen and bath design department “which I like to do.”

Both Fogg and Oakes said the sale of their businesses to Bethel Mills will also provide their employees an opportunity to continue with a stable, locally-owned family company that holds similar values.

“Actually, they’re pretty excited about it,” Oakes said on Friday afternoon after he had informed his employees of the news. “They were concerned about me getting older and my brother’s health. Plus, Bethel Mills is still a local company, not a big conglomerate. I think it will be great for the community. Take it to the next level.” (Oakes describes his age as “over 65.”)

Brothers Winston, Wendell and Neil Oakes purchased what had formerly been D.C. McLam’s Hardware in 1973 in Bradford. Winston left the business in 2001 to start Budget Lumber and Building Supply in North Haverhill and Wendell Oakes transferred his shares last year to Neil Oakes, leaving him the sole owner of the 23-employee business.

Bethel Mills is owned by Lang Durfee, whose grandfather Raymond Durfee purchased the business in the early 1940s. Lang Durfee’s sons, Andrew Durfee and Matthew Durfee, now represent the fourth generation of the family to work in the business.

Bethel Mills said the acquisitions fit into its strategic plan to expand the company’s service territory with stores that offer a similar product mix.

“Their experienced team, location, product mix, and customer base aligns very well with our existing stores,” Bethel Mills CFO Claudia Sherwin said in the news release.

Alan Fogg described Lang Durfee’s father, the late John Durfee, as a “mentor” to him in business when he took over his father’s single hardware store 42 years ago.

“I had no business training,” Fogg recalled on Friday. “I modeled my business after his. The emphasis on customer service, the emphasis on handling quality products. The emphasis that it’s more important to be good than to be big.”

Not surprisingly, Fogg said, when it came time to decide to whom to pass on the business, Bethel Mills was the logical choice.

“Lang and I have known each other for a long time and both of us just realized years ago that when it was time for (my family) to move on this was the logical way to do it,” said Fogg, 70, who took over his father’s Fairlee hardware and building supply business in 1978 and today owns it with his former wife, Margaret Willey, and his brother, Skip Fogg, 54. They added two other locations by purchasing hardware stores in Norwich in 1989 and Woodsville in 1990.

Fogg’s Hardware has about 30 employees in total.

With roots that date back to 1781 — two years before the end of the Revolutionary War — Bethel Mills began as a sawmill and grist mill.

The business was owned by the descendants of founder Col. Joel Marsh for nearly 100 years before being sold in 1877.

By the 1930s, Bethel Mills was owned by A. N. Washburn, whose widow sold a 49% interest in the company in 1937 to Raymond Durfee, who had joined as grain and lumber salesman four years earlier and was credited with saving the business during the Great Depression. He bought the remaining 51% in 1943, according to the journal US Builders Review website. Raymond Mill’s son, John Durfee, expanded the business into building supplies and the sawmill was closed in 1970 and lumber purchased from outside producers.

Lang Durfee, who took over day-to-day operations in 1996, broadened Bethel Mills’ retail footprint further by purchasing Central Supplies ACE in Randolph in 2000, Brandon Lumber & Millwork and Hancock Building Supply in 2008 and, most recently, Britton’s Lumber & Hardware in Taftsville in 2010.

Through each of the acquisitions, Bethel Mills has resisted putting its own name on the business in order to let it continue operating under the name with which customers and the community are familiar.

The sellers, for one, appreciate that.

“It’s going to be a warming experience to drive by the store in the future and still see our name there,” Fogg said.

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.




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